When it comes to cocktails, everyone has different tastes and preferences. That makes coming up with new drinks challenging, even for me—and I’m a mixologist! But if you’re willing to be a little adventurous, making your own drinks can also be really fun. There’s so much out there to experiment with!
To stock your home bar, you’ll need a one of each spirit: a gin, a tequila, a bourbon or rye, an aged rum and a vodka. Choose good-quality brands. I personally like a London dry gin—it’s my favorite spirit to mix with. Then add your ingredients: Both a sweet and a dry vermouth would allow you to make a lot of old-school cocktails for your basic classics, like the Manhattan or a martini. You’ll also want superfine sugar to make simple syrup (which is equal parts superfine sugar and water, boiled together until sugar dissolves and then cooled), as well as bitters, lemon juice and lime juice. With those, you can make a really wide variety of cocktails.
As for tools, you’re going to need a shaker. I recommend a cobbler shaker with a built-in strainer to make things easier. You’ll also want to have a small paring knife to cut garnishes, a bar spoon to stir cocktails and a jigger for measuring more accurately.
From there, you’ll be able to make a lot of different kinds of cocktails. Here are five of my favorites for beginners:
The Fitzgerald (Gin)
2 oz gin (like Beefeater)
0.75 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 dashes angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients except lemon in a shaker over ice. Shake, and serve on the rocks. Garnish with a lemon twist.
1.5 oz tequila (like Tequila Cabeza)
1 oz grapefruit juice
0.75 oz lime
0.75 oz simple syrup
Pinch of salt
Grapefruit-flavored seltzer (like Perrier)
Combine all ingredients except soda and grapefruit in a shaker, and strain into a Collins glass with ice. Top with soda, then garnish with a half-moon slice of grapefruit.
1.5 oz bourbon (like Buffalo Trace)
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Stir all ingredients except orange together with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on your preference. Garnish with an orange twist.
2 oz rum (like Atlantico Platino)
1 oz lime juice
0.75 oz simple syrup
Combine ingredients except lime in a shaker over ice. Shake, and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Harvey Wallbanger (Vodka)
1.5 oz vodka
1.5 oz fresh orange juice
0.25 oz Galliano
Add vodka, orange juice and ice to a Collins glass. Float the Galliano on top, and garnish with an orange slice.
Yael Vengroff is the bar director at The Spare Room in Los Angeles.